There are those who seek and those who settle. And those of us in-between.
For years I stared at the barren space adjacent to my front walkway. Some years I planted annuals that fit my whim. Other years I transplanted items from neighbors or family members; unsure what to do with them. Each weekend my neighbor cultivates the shared plantar between our front yards, fussing and pruning. Every year-or-so the yard landscape changes; concrete plantars re-paved, outdoor light fixtures removed and added. I have watched various appliances come and go, large yard renovations constructed and indoor items redecorated. Our homes are mirror images of one another and ours has always remained the same; original to the builder’s plan. You would never believe our houses are the same.
Our neighbors had been surprised, last weekend, to find me in our front yard digging through dirt. They peered through the beautiful flowers and trees, between our homes, to the stark barren landscape of my yard and splotchy green grass. I grinned as their curiosity got the better of them and chimed that my yard could not possibly compete with the beautiful landscaping, the wife, maintained. In prior plantings I had hoped to create a vignette to complement my neighbor’s meticulous garden; always to no avail. None of my entry walkway ideas remained for long; my desire easily distracted to the messy and neglected things indoors. When the hubs turned off the water and sprinkler systems to maintain our state’s drought mandate, all things wilted away and returned to the earth. My neighbors continued to water their gardens and washed their vehicles.
I knew this time, my inspired planting was different. This one was sustainable. I finally found what I’ve sought for so long.
Although I’ve been on this mental journey for quite some time, this last year finally brought me some answers; ones that I would’ve known all along if I had listened and trusted myself.
I had spent quality time hiking local mountain trails with my family of five. The recommendation to have breakfast on a mountain peak dissolved when we learned the lift was only open on weekends. The one local cafe to eat would not open for forty-five minutes. The five of us were hungry and knew there was a long hike ahead but, at the hubs’ urging, we pushed forward anyway. We hiked-in for 2.5 hours before our grumbling stomachs urged us to turn back. All we had with us was water; erroneously thinking we would have a large breakfast at the summit and a local mart to purchase granola bars. When all of our options dissipitated in the cool mountain air, we trudged on and told ourselves we wouldn’t hike in very far.
But on this day, as we improvised and returned for dinner in the quaint, college village nearby, I shared my desire to visit a local garden and library. The hubs and sons gave me blank stares and, knowingly, I heard the words none of them were saying. This was not their thing but they knew I always liked doing family outings together. When the hubs gently suggested I should go on my own, he hadn’t really considered that I would do it. But I had known that this was something I would do, solo, and, with my family’s silent blessing, I planned my outing for the following day. I am responsible for my own happiness.
I found myself on the streets I traveled often where my extended family lives. During college summers I lived with my late cousin and his family, working in a local hospital and then the university research lab during my four undergraduate years. I realized that I knew this area more than my childhood home as I drove by the gated Mediterranean and Colonial style mansions with the large expanses of manicured lawns and entryways. In my mind I had returned to this place to quietly reflect on the Chinese and Asian themed gardens; to find inspiration in their beauty and walk the paths to sort through the various thoughts and ideas in my mind. No one knew me here and, amidst the tourists and visitors; I noted there weren’t any kids my own sons’ ages.
I was comfortable being alone. I quietly ate my Chinese lunch overlooking the bridge; listening to the different languages being spoken all around me.
The next day as I roamed nurseries, the plants I thought I’d be choosing weren’t the ones I had gravitated towards. I had returned home to stare at the plants in my backyard and saw the theme I hadn’t realized I was trying to create in my house and outdoors. I love all things spherical and instead of the bonzai trees or cherry blossoms, it had been the prickly golden barrel cacti in the desert gardens that had beckoned to me. I stood before the succulent section picking, and being picked and poked, by the various drought resistant plants that withstand high heat and low water.
I chatted with my neighbors. I realized I had no desire to compete with the artful garden that graced both of our homes’ front yards. I wished to complement it with simplicity to withstand our drought. I felt an affinity to the lone cactus in hostile weather and infertile soil; reaching for the sky. The golden barrels were prickly on the outside but they were survivors and withstood the harsh elements. For the woman who spends most of her time indoors and toiling with trees and vegetables in the backyard, this was the perfect solution and fit all of my parameters. This was sustainable.
Sustainability had been the answer I had searched for all along.
I sat in the crowded Asian gardens teeming with people and found myself walking the paths in the reverse direction. I felt no refuge or beauty in the crowded, popular areas. Instead I walked the hilly, curvy paths; past the formal gardens of herbs and roses and into the stark and silent beauty of the cacti. I sat amongst the aloe vera plants amazed that, beneath their prickly and bony exteriors, lie the balm for burns and dryness afflicting humans’ outer skin.
We, humans, are well-kept and appear approachable on the outside; but most are brittle and hardened on the inside.
In these past few years I’ve circled back to the young girl I used to be; the one without expectations. It was at this time that I began to collect circular globes and items that serve as decor within my home. The corniness of the whole idea made me laugh out loud. Who knew I’d be considering my life staring at a cactus; once again finding my passion, my value and my spirit? This wasn’t quite the beauty I had envisioned.
My former expectations of success were not mentally or physically sustainable. I sought value in the wrong places and settled in circumstances that were within my control. It is a blessing to have others to walk alongside; supportive and full of encouragement. I am responsible for my own happiness.
I existed in my in-between place; transitioning from one phase of life into another but never really taking stock of what I needed to simply be happy in my own prickly skin. It wasn’t the lithe physique, fancy appliances or luxury cars; nor the full resume of degrees, titles or bank accounts. We must all find our own happiness within and follow it. To seek beauty, speak our own truths and have meaningful relationships (with family, with friends) and to follow where the path leads us.
It had been a conversation with my late cousin’s widow that made me finally see. After being offered severance pay in the successful career she held for four decades, surviving the loss of her husband and watching her kids leave the nest and begin their own families; she sought to do what she loved best. She didn’t sit around and wait for opportunities to find her; she sought them. It was in these gardens that she offered to volunteer her time and share the beauty of this place. Her love language is in service; just like my own. It was why I had returned here, on my own time schedule, so I could explore the areas I wanted to follow without worrying or catering to anyone else.
For two days I tirelessly worked outdoors gardening. Our own backyard represents the yards from our childhood; the sago palm from my in-laws, the trumpet vine from my late cousin, the rhododendron from another cousin. The hubs handed me a gift card to splurge on a rose tree. The fruit trees and vegetable gardens reflect the can do, independent spirit of both sets of parents; both wishing to go off-grid. There is joy in watching things grow and blossom. The things we’ve planted actually have a story or history; a purpose for why it is there: my husband’s obsession with horse radish, my sons’ desire for all things citrus.
I have settled into our home; no longer seeking greener, verdant pastures and in-between places. Our landscape reflects who lives here now; simple and sustainable for many years to come. I find beauty and inspiration in the place that matters. The rain continues to come down as I sit at my window indoors; contentedly watching my gardens and sons grow.